The Growing Demand for Quality Educators

Students raising hands in classroom

Last Spring, media outlets reported that the Hawaii Department of Education, dealing with a growing teacher shortage, was attempting to lure educators from the mainland using financial incentives. While the images of stunning waterfalls and the dream of catching a wave in between classes may grab the readers’ attention, the real story is that the rising demand for qualified teachers and administrators is being felt across the nation, especially here in Illinois.

According to the Teacher Shortage Survey, developed by the Illinois Association of Regional Schools, 60 percent of Illinois school districts responding reported trouble filling teaching positions and 75 percent are seeing fewer qualified candidates than in past years. The needs are, and will continue to be, the greatest in urban and rural communities which have the most difficulties attracting and retaining teachers. While this presents a problem for school districts, it affords an unique opportunity to those who are called to a career in education. 

An Opportune Moment

There has never been a better time to consider a degree in education. Not only are there current vacancies to be filled but the Occupational Handbook put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a nationally projected growth in employment across all education occupations over the next few years. According to the Illinois State Board of Education's Educator Supply and Demand annual report, Illinois alone will need about 10,300 new teachers by 2018 and the future is even brighter for those interested in the following fields: 

  • Mathematics and Science Education
  • Special Education
  • Bilingual Education
  • School Counseling
  • Elementary Principal

Candidates with the right combination of credentials and skills can find themselves entertaining multiple prospects. The key is making sure that you are that candidate. 

Making a Difference in the Classroom... and Beyond

It is a long established fact that those who become teachers are not doing it for the money or the prestige. So what inspires a person to pursue a career in education? Many are interested in a profession that maintains the capacity to impact lives.

“I became a teacher because I once had a teacher who refused to give up on me.  She gave me the future to have possibilities.” Kimberly Noschese (BS in Elementary Education) shares, “I strive to be that kind of teacher. I wake up each day hoping to motivate, inspire, and make connections.  If I can do that for just one student each year, who knows what possibilities they will have when they grow up!”

Of course, not everyone is cut out for the classroom. “When some people picture themselves as a teacher, they envision standing up in the front of the room, and the children are like little robots that do everything they are told to do, they hang on every word, appreciate and cooperate to the nth degree – and, of course, have parents who are equally grateful. Since that really isn’t how it works in the vast majority of schools, the prospective teacher needs to be someone who has a different vision in mind,” says Roxanne Owens, Chair of the Department of Teacher Education.

A 2015 analysis by DePaul University’s Career Center showed that 91 percent of DePaul’s recent Teacher Education graduates reported that they were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of receiving their degrees.

Having the appropriate training can ensure that the vision and reality are one and the same. "At DePaul, we want our students to have a real understanding of what teaching is – not the TV sitcom version of teaching, but the actual day to day life of teaching." Owens continues, "That’s why we require a variety of field experiences in different settings. We don’t want students to be surprised about how much work teaching actually is – their course work and their field work prepares them for the rigor of daily life in the classroom. We want our students to have fulfilling careers. We want our students to impact the lives of their students in positive ways."

Special Educators

As advances in screening have led to more exceptionalities in children being identified, a critical need for qualified special education teachers at has emerged. As schools recognize the importance of meeting the needs of children with IDEA eligible disabilities, they require teachers that demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to innovate. 

“Special educators, in particular, must work to address individualized goals of students with IEPs and be ready to change instructional methods based on the collection of ongoing assessment data. The ability and willingness to update a lesson plan if data shows it is not beneficial to student learning is critical,” says Jennifer Loncola Walberg, Chair of the Department of Counseling and Special Education.

According to the National Education Association, the number of children enrolled in special education programs has risen by 30% in the past decade.

“DePaul special education programs focus on proving candidates with with evidence based strategies for teaching exceptional students. A combination of in class work and on campus and field based practicum courses allow students to apply knowledge and gain valuable experience prior to student teaching. Additional coursework in reading and literacy, mathematics and assessment results in well rounded applicants comfortable teaching in a variety of classroom settings.”

The Administrator's Toolbox

Those interested in positions in school administration need their own specific tools. Barbara Rieckhoff, Director of the Master’s in Educational Leadership program, explains, “Today’s principals require a range of skills to be truly transformational – it starts with building relationships inside and outside of the schoolhouse. The ability to build community and engage all stakeholders in the school and its reform efforts are essential to an effective principal. Our Principal Prep program emphasizes how to build those relationships and develop a clear mission and vision. We emphasize the Vincentian personalism and how this situates a leader to make decisions with the best interests of students and families in mind.” 

Teneka Brooks (MA in Educational Leadership) credits her time at DePaul with her subsequent success. "I was taught that without the correct mission and vision for my school, my school would not be successful. I also learned that, as a leader, I have to make sure that I support my staff, that their voices are heard, and that I tap into their leadership abilities."

Making the Change to Be the Change

Many potential educators eyeing education degrees nowadays are so-called “career changers”. 

“People with expertise in areas such as math and science can make more money in other career areas. They have other options to pursue. But, oftentimes, they end up feeling like they aren’t really fulfilled by those careers. They aren’t contributing to society in the way they had hoped to and then they seek out teaching as a change of career option,” says Owens. 

Career changers bring a wealth of real-life experience to the classroom and can help connect lessons to real-world applications.  “Almost three-quarters of our current students enrolled in the College of Education are people who came from other careers. Their wider experience of life and work makes a vital contribution to our drive to address the nation’s critical teacher shortage, end educational inequality, create gender inclusion in education, and raise standards in the classroom.” states Andre Lewis, Director of Admissions for the College of Education.

While schools nationwide struggle to find a high number of qualified candidates, DePaul is partnering with networks like the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) to change that situation. Together with AUSL, DePaul is recruiting inspiring and passionate career changers for classrooms that need them the most. The program draws many applications, mostly from people in their mid- to late-20s, all with work experience and college degrees in the areas they’re going to teach. 

At DePaul, the third largest producer of education career-changers, there has never been a better time to pursue a degree in education... even if you can't surf in Lake Michigan.


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